France joins forces with India and the United States in China’s Pacific backyard

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The list of speakers for the 2021 Raisina Dialogue included General Angus Cambell, Australian Defense Force Chief, General Bipin Rawat, Indian Chief of Defense Staff, General Claudio Graziano, Chairman of the Military Committee of the EU and former CIA chief David Petreaus, as well as General Koji Yamazaki, Chief of Staff of the Japanese Defense Forces and Jens Stoltenberg of NATO.


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                La France a accepté de rejoindre l'Initiative indienne de l'océan Indo-Pacifique.  Sur le papier, le projet englobe la coopération sur le changement climatique et les échanges universitaires, mais son objectif principal semble être stratégique.  Et cela s'inscrit dans les plans des États-Unis pour une coalition croissante de démocraties, visant à endiguer l'affirmation croissante de la Chine dans la région. 
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                                    <p>Une semaine après que le ministre russe des Affaires étrangères, Sergueï Lavrov, a averti l'Inde que la création d'une «OTAN asiatique» serait contre-productive, le ministre français des Affaires étrangères, Jean-Yves le Drian, a rencontré ses homologues indiens et australiens Subrahmanyam Jaishankar et Marise Paine à Delhi pour explorer un «mécanisme trilatéral» pour faire face aux «défis émergents dans les domaines maritime et spatial».

While France and India remain extremely cautious on the issue of defense cooperation, Paris’ willingness to partner with Delhi and Canberra in the Indo-Pacific region has been reinforced by its decision to participate in the Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative (IPOI), a platform launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019.

“The IPOI seeks to strengthen cooperation with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region,” Dr Premesha Saha, associate member of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi, told RFI.


It made sense for India to show that it can also expand its influence into China’s backyard, which is the West Pacific, and into the South China Sea.

PODCAST: Premesha Saha, Associate Researcher at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, talks about the Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative and France’s role in it.

The IPOI is made up of several innocent sounding “pillars” including “climate change” and “maritime ecology”, but also “maritime security” and that is probably its main objective.

The list of speakers for the Raisina Dialogue, a geostrategic forum focused on the Indo-Pacific region, in which Le Drian participated on April 15, is revealing.

It shows a long list of military personnel, including chiefs of staff from Japan, Australia, India and the chairman of the EU Military Committee, as well as former CIA chief General David Petraeus, and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg. Apart from that, the list includes an impressive array of prime ministers and foreign ministers (from France, Japan, Australia, among others), MEPs, think tank leaders – including an occasional Russian. – and selected journalists.

Notably absent from the list: speakers from China.

The list of speakers for the 2021 Raisina Dialogue included General Angus Cambell, Australian Defense Force Chief, General Bipin Rawat, Indian Chief of Defense Staff, General Claudio Graziano, Chairman of the Military Committee of the EU and former CIA chief David Petreaus, as well as General Koji Yamazaki, Chief of Staff of the Japanese Defense Forces and Jens Stoltenberg of NATO. © Screengrab List of ORF speakers
    «La Chine a poursuivi agressivement ses revendications de souveraineté», indique une étude de l'ORF sur la politique indo-pacifique de l'Inde publiée en décembre dernier.  "Il s'efforce de s'imposer comme un acteur régional majeur" et Delhi accueille les pays "qui ont exprimé leur intérêt à travailler avec l'Inde dans le cadre de l'IPOI" pour trouver des moyens de répondre au "comportement unilatéral et belliqueux de la Chine dans l'Indo-Pacifique" .  La France est clairement à bord.</p><h2>Exercices conjoints de la marine</h2><p>Début avril, deux navires de la marine française, le Tonnerre et le Surcouf, ont fait escale au port indien de Kochi.  Les deux navires de guerre ont ensuite navigué vers la baie du Bengale pour participer à l'exercice naval conjoint dirigé par la France, La Pérouse, impliquant des navires d'Inde, d'Australie, du Japon et des États-Unis début avril.

France’s growing interest in the region was underlined by President Emmanuel Macron when he appointed seasoned diplomat Christophe Penot “Envoy for the Indo-Pacific” on September 16, 2016.

Penot, a former ambassador to Australia, is based in Paris, but travels the Indo-Pacific to coordinate with France’s partners and forge new initiatives such as the trilateral dialogue launched with India and Australia in September 2020.

<div class="m-em-image">
Helicopters land on an aircraft carrier during the second phase of Naval Exercise Malabar, a joint exercise involving India, the United States, Japan and Australia, in the northern Arabian Sea, on Tuesday, November 17, 2020. The navies of India and the United States, Australia and Japan held exercises in the northern Arabian Sea on Tuesday as part of the second phase of a naval exercise seen as part of a regional initiative to counter China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
Helicopters land on an aircraft carrier during the second phase of Naval Exercise Malabar, a joint exercise involving India, the United States, Japan and Australia, in the northern Arabian Sea, on Tuesday, November 17, 2020. The navies of India and the United States, Australia and Japan held exercises in the northern Arabian Sea on Tuesday as part of the second phase of a naval exercise seen as part of a regional initiative to counter China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
Helicopters land on an aircraft carrier during the second phase of Naval Exercise Malabar, a joint exercise involving India, the United States, Japan and Australia, in the northern Arabian Sea, on Tuesday, November 17, 2020. The navies of India and the United States, Australia and Japan held exercises in the northern Arabian Sea on Tuesday as part of the second phase of a naval exercise seen as part of a regional initiative to counter China’s growing assertion in the Indo-Pacific. AP
    </div>Selon le site Internet du ministère français des Affaires étrangères, le dialogue trilatéral se concentre sur les «défis géostratégiques» et les «stratégies pour un Indo-Pacifique libre, ouvert et inclusif».

This jargon fits nicely into the American language used in documents such as the 2021 Joint Policy Statement of the United States Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, which describes the American “promise” of a “free and orderly order. open, rules-based ”for the major reaches of the South China Sea.

Freedom of navigation

The anti-China coalition appears to have emerged from a series of seemingly unrelated meetings, naval exercises and multilateral cooperation, such as the Trilateral Dialogue and the Quadrilateral Dialogue (“the Quad”), which culminated in joint US naval exercises. , Indian, Australian and Japanese.

The Quad was launched in 2007, then lay dormant for a decade, but was injected with new life after Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 and appeared to take a more aggressive stance in the region. Quad exercises as part of the American Freedom of Navigation Program (FON), launched in 1979 “to safeguard the legal trade and global mobility of American forces” and to combat “excessive maritime claims”.

In red dots: area claimed by China.  The blue lines indicate the exclusive economic zones of various countries as recognized by the United Nations Law of the Sea.
In red dots: area claimed by China.  The blue lines indicate the exclusive economic zones of various countries as recognized by the United Nations Law of the Sea.
In red dots: area claimed by China. The blue lines indicate the exclusive economic zones of various countries as recognized by the United Nations Law of the Sea. © Wikimedia Commons
    Le rapport du FON 2020 au Congrès par le département américain de la Défense énumère 19 pays faisant des revendications territoriales en dehors des 200 miles nautiques (370 km) de la "zone économique exclusive" (ZEE) établie par la Convention des Nations Unies sur le droit de la mer.

China is guilty of most of the violations, according to the report. It has seven instances, including “foreign aircraft restriction”, on the corresponding air defense identification zones; “Criminalization of surveying and mapping activities” by foreign vessels without prior authorization, prohibiting the “innocent passage of foreign military vessels” without prior permission from Beijing.

And over the past two years, the United States, worried about China’s repression of democracy in Hong Kong and increasingly frequent violations of Taiwanese airspace, appears to want to extend its regional influence through more intensive participation. with “democratic” allies.

India, which already waged a brief border war with China in 1967, is a key driver of this plan as it is currently in a stalemate with Beijing over sections of their shared – and disputed – border. “It made sense for India to show that it can also expand its influence into China’s backyard,” says ORF’s Premesha Saha, “which is the western Pacific in the South China Sea”.

India is also particularly concerned about China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a crucial component of which, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is viewed by Delhi as an “attack on Indian sovereignty.” With France – and the EU – on board, a large circle of allies now appears to be forming.

American imperialism

China, for its part, expresses its dissatisfaction with the growing alliance which it sees as proof of “US imperialism.” In an angry opinion piece published by the hard line Global Times on April 14, commentator Xie Chao mocks that “Quad has reached its ceiling and internal contradictions should emerge”, adding that “a bigger Asia-Pacific alliance like NATO” is doomed to fail because the four members “lack consensus” on a common threat.

French participation in the Quad naval exercises, the newspaper said in another article, is “a publicity stunt” which “will not strengthen a loose group,” mocking that “it is impossible for France to maintain a military presence in long term in this region ”and that Paris is only lip service to Washington.

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